[A2k] Bridges Weekly: US, Japan Leaders Pledge to Lead TPP Talks to Swift Conclusion

Thiru Balasubramaniam thiru at keionline.org
Thu Apr 30 07:10:51 PDT 2015


BRIDGES <http://www.ictsd.org/bridges-news/Bridges>
US, Japan Leaders Pledge to Lead TPP Talks to Swift Conclusion
30 April 2015

US President Barack Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe jointly
pledged on Tuesday to help lead negotiations for a 12-country Pacific Rim
trade deal to a “swift and successful conclusion,” after meeting at the
White House during the Japanese premier’s highly-anticipated visit to

“Based on the progress we’ve made, Prime Minister Abe and I discussed how
the United States and Japan, as the two largest economies in the TPP
negotiations, will now work together to lead our TPP partners to swift and
successful conclusions of the broader negotiations,” Obama said
the discussions.

The two countries are pushing to conclude difficult bilateral negotiations
on both agriculture and automobile trade, which many analysts suggest could
then pave the way for the rest of the 12-country agreement to come together.

“I know the politics around trade can be hard in both our countries. But I
know that Prime Minister Abe, like me, is deeply committed to getting this
done,” the US President added.

In his remarks to reporters on Tuesday, Abe said that the two sides
“welcome the fact that significant progress was made” on the bilateral
issues under negotiations, while stopping short of saying how far the US
and Japan are from a deal.

Officials on both sides had already warned prior to the leaders’ meeting,
however, not to expect Obama and Abe to announce a final bilateral accord.

“The most we could expect in a joint statement is to say there is ‘welcome
progress’,” Japanese Economy Minister Akira Amari told reporters earlier
this week, according to comments reported by Reuters.

Abe’s trip is the first official visit by a Japanese head of government
during the Obama Administration, coming at what observers say is a critical
moment for the TPP talks. Abe also gave an address to a joint session of
the US Congress on Wednesday, in a notable first for a Japanese leader.

TPP officials have said that they hope to reach a deal this year, before
the politics of the US general election process get into full swing.

Negotiators met from 23-26 April in the US state of Maryland in an effort
to bridge some of the outstanding gaps in various other TPP areas, holding
discussions on market access, intellectual property, rules of origin,
textiles, and investment, according to a Canadian government summary
Meetings were also held on market access issues, the statement said.

Ministers from the TPP member countries are likely to meet in a few weeks,
potentially on the sidelines of a 23-24 May gathering of trade ministers
from the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) countries in Boracay,
Philippines. Some observers have suggested that a TPP-wide deal could be
announced then, depending on both the advances on trade-related legislation
in Washington as well as the pace of the 12-country negotiations in the
coming weeks.

Along with the US and Japan, the other 10 countries involved in the TPP
include Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand,
Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam.

*TPA floor vote?*

The introduction in US congressional committees of a bill to renew Trade
Promotion Authority (TPA) – known formally as the Bipartisan Congressional
Trade Priorities and Accountability Act of 2015 – has raised the Washington
trade debate to a fever pitch in recent weeks, particularly given what it
would mean for the TPP talks.

The draft TPA renewal legislation was already approved in both the Senate
Finance and House Ways and Means committees last week, with the bill
expected to go to the full floor of both chambers of Congress as early as
next month for a vote. (See Bridges Weekly, 23 April 2015

TPP country officials such as New Zealand Trade Minister Tim Groser have
welcomed the moves on TPA as helping set the stage for concluding the
Pacific Rim trade talks.

“I think it’s highly likely that we will now enter the end game of this
negotiation, which is what New Zealand has been waiting for years, as a
result of what’s going on in Congress,” he told Radio New Zealand this week.

The introduction and subsequent committee approval of the legislation has
rankled several US lawmakers, particularly in the Democratic Party, which
is the minority party in both chambers of Congress. Many legislators have
questioned both the TPP on its own merits, as well as the TPA’s provisions
on areas ranging from negotiating objectives to transparency.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, speaking
reporters following last week’s “mark-up” in the Ways and Means Committee,
called the current version of TPA a “pothole,” while noting that she is
still “looking for a path to yes.”

“I’m not lobbying against anything. I’m lobbying for a positive trade
promotion and a positive bill.  Now, it’s a chicken and egg,” she said.

Other Democrats have been more critical, with Sander Levin of Michigan
calling the current TPA legislation a “major step backwards” for the TPP.
Levin is the highest-ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee
and attempted
to introduce a substitute version of the trade bill.

“Instead of pressing USTR to get a better agreement or signalling to our
negotiating partners that Congress will only accept a strong agreement, the
Hatch-Wyden-Ryan TPA puts Congress in the back seat and greases the skids
for an up-or-down vote after the fact,” Levin said after the legislation
was introduced.

*Obama ramps up trade pitch*

With trade action ramping up in Congress, Obama has also been making a
concerted pitch to both lawmakers and the American public over why deals
like TPP are important, citing the need for the US to continue playing a
role as a trade rule-maker and the potential for the trade deal to boost
American competitiveness.

Trade was the main topic of Obama’s latest weekly address
the public, focusing on why new international deals are important to
American values.

In an interview
this week with the Wall Street Journal, the US leader acknowledged that
“some people have been suspicious, feel burned from some of those
experiences” involving past trade deals, such as some of the downsides of
the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the changes to the
global economic order following the accession of China to the WTO.

“The argument that I’ve made consistently is that’s not a reason for us not
to enter into trade agreements anymore, it’s a reason for us to strengthen
the trade agreements that we do enter into,” he said, adding that
Washington should also take steps to improve job training, education,
worker protections, and infrastructure in the US to avoid any losses in

“But what we’re not going to do is to reverse the trends of globalisation.
We’ve got to be in the game,” he added.

The US leader also noted that the TPA legislation under discussion in
Congress includes various features to boost the availability of public
information regarding trade deals, such as requiring the full text of a
negotiated agreement to be posted online 60 days before the president signs

He added, however, that not all aspects of trade deals can be out in the
open during a negotiation, given the need for the US to have a strong
position vis-à-vis its trading partners during the process.

“What we haven’t been able to do is to disclose how much market access
we’re getting on rice in Japan when we haven’t come up with an agreement
yet. We haven’t finalised an agreement with respect to what Malaysia’s
environmental obligations will be,” Obama told the Wall Street Journal.

“We’re trying to drive the hardest bargain possible. And it would be
foolish to disclose what our bottom lines are. That’s just basic
negotiation,” he added.

ICTSD reporting; “WSJ Interview Transcript: President Obama on TPP, China,
Japan, Pope Francis, Cuba,” THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, 27 April 2015;
“Japan’s Amari plays down expectations on U.S. trade deal progress,”
REUTERS, 28 April 2015; “‘Eng game’ for TPP – Trade Minister,” RADIO NEW
ZEALAND, 26 April 2015.

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